How Sundance Gave Me the Greatest Movie Day of My Life

How Sundance Gave Me the Greatest Movie Day of My Life

Jan 26, 2015

I wish I could call this article, "Something Interesting Happened," but I know as an online writer of little to no fame that we must grab you with the thing, and that thing is that I just saw my most "best" movies in one single day at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and I don't believe it will ever be topped.

I was a stat geek when I was a kid. Here's how I prove that to people: I played Nintendo's football game "10-Yard Fight" and kept track of passing, rushing and receiving stats. Keep in mind, there were no individual players, and the game didn't give you any statistical updates ever. After each play, I would jot down "Walter Payton, 7" or "Steve Largent, 16." I did this for a full imaginary season for 10 imaginary teams, playing 10 imaginary games. I also keep light mental track of my "bests," just like you do.

My best day is when I got married (it was an amazing party, and I was confident I was choosing the right partner for life). My best moment is when my son came into this world. The nurse asked me his name so they could write it on the board, and I had to repeat myself because I was a blubbery mess, in fact, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about it. My best concert was Bruce Springsteen at SXSW '13. I wasn't a huge fan before, but after I stood eight feet away from him I thought about never seeing another concert again because it wouldn't compare. The most minutes of movies I had ever seen in the theater (nonfestival) in one day was The Postman, An American Werewolf in Paris and Titanic. That's eight hours and 12 minutes.

But the "best" movie day of my life was kind of undecided. It actually might have been recently when I saw Selma and Belle. I gave both films a 9/10, so 18/20 is a pretty great day, but it's not the greatest, not anymore. 

Keep in mind, I gave out only four 10s in 2014, and six nines.

My first film was Sleeping with Other People. The director referred to the film as "When Harry Met Sally for assholes," and I believe it might be impossible to come up with a better description so I won't try. That director is Leslye Headland and she's the woman who directed the criminally under seen Bachlorette. Sleeping stars Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. Both characters attempt to be friends while seeing other people. Both are messed up, especially Brie's character. Both actors easily give their best film performances to date. Plus the supporting cast is Amanda Peet, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Scott, Andrea Savage and the scene stealer Jason Mantzoukas. It was a 9/10. It feels like a romantic comedy that everyone will love, as long as you can handle raunch.

The second film was The D Train starring Jack Black and James Marsden. Dan (Black) is a loser who thinks he can turn his little life around if he convinces commercial actor Oliver Lawless (Marsden) to come back for their 20-year high school reunion. It's painful and awkward. Dan creates a series of lies that spiral out of control. It's normally a vibe I dislike with films, but it seems so terribly authentic for Dan, because he feels truly lost. It's the best work Black has done on film, because it's a more difficult role than High Fidelity. Marsden is also amazing. I will be very curious how they market this film, because they take bromance to an entirely new level. I could see others not being on board with it, and I won't fight them to the death about it, but it was a 9/10 for me.

This was the point in the day that I didn't want to talk about the potential. I was on a hot streak. You know how you're not supposed to talk about a no-hitter? Same thing here. I sat down to watch Mississippi Grind. It has gambling, plus a wonderful sad-sack performance by Ben Mendelsohn, a dirty yet charming Ryan Reynolds, and they mention my alma mater the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first few minutes. Thankfully, they don't mess up the ending, which is pretty key for a gambling film. I loved it. It was a 9/10. That's right, so far we're at 27/30.

You know that part where I wasn't telling anybody? I started talking about it a little with my film critic friends. I couldn't help it. I had two movies left, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Ten Thousand Saints.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (pictured at top) is about what the title says. It's a high school coming-of-age movie... wait, wait, don't go anywhere -- I swear it's good. It stars Thomas Mann as Greg, a kid who wants to be invisible, but then befriends a girl who has leukemia. This film is smarter than me. That's the same vibe I had when I watched Rushmore for the first time. There are tons of film references (sadly, some I didn't know) told in a new way. Olive Cooke gives you everything you could want from an actress playing a teen with cancer. RJ Cyler probably gave my favorite performance of the day. I haven't even mentioned that Greg's parents are played by Nick Offerman and Connie Britton. If you don't have a crush on those two people, we probably can't be friends. Based on the title, you might have guessed you could tear up during this film. I just let the tears stream down my cheeks. A friend made fun of my tear-soaked shirt after, and I even thought of the film after it was over and started crying. That is powerful. That does not happen. That movie was a 10/10.

I couldn't see Ten Thousand Saints. It was too risky. I worried that I'd be telling you about a great movie day, with one that was just pretty good. Part of me feels like I should never see Ten Thousand Saints, so I'll never know if I made the "right" or "wrong" decision in something that doesn't truly matter, but truly matters to me. I called my amazing friend and cohost Eric D. Snider (Movie B.S. with Bayer and Snider), and convinced him to also skip Ten Thousand Saints. Instead we talked. I bragged like I had just went 4-4 at the plate with four home runs, the last being a grand slam. Yes, I am fully aware all I actually did was sit in a theater four times. Then a huge group of us went to a National Lampoon's party with Otis Day singing "Shout." It was the best of times.

Looking back on the day I wish I could erase my mind and do it all over again. I declared that I would happily sit through those four films today instead of seeing anything new. Hell, I even learned something new about me (which is a nod to Me and Earl) thanks to Sleeping with Other People. Don't worry, it's a good thing. I went 37/40 in one day of films. I doubt I will have a day where I go 20/20 in the future, or even 28/30. I can't imagine ever having a better movie day in my life. It was the greatest.




Categories: Features, Indie, Film Festivals
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